Program opens Academy admission for enlisted
Kiana Baruela, pictured here as a prior-enlisted Airman first class at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, graduated from Basic Military Training Jan. 14, 2016. Baruela, now a U.S. Air Force Academy cadet first class, earned her appointment through the Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development program. (Photo provided by Cadet 1st Class Kiana Baruela)
By Randy Roughton
U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo.- In 2018, then-Senior Airman Kiana Baruela was on track for a successful U.S. Air Force health management career, but she had one concern. She wanted to be an officer.
Fortunately, Baruela’s attitude and leadership skills led her supervisor to recommend the then-20-year-old to apply for U.S. Air Force Academy admission through the Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development Program. She completed the U.S. Air Force Preparatory School in 2019 and Basic Cadet Training in 2020.
Returning to the career field as an officer
Five years later, Baruela is now a cadet first class in her senior year at the Academy. After she earns her bachelor’s degree in Management in June 2024, Baruela will return to the Air Force health management field as a commissioned officer.
“I was not planning on going back to school,” Baruela said. “But at that point, I wanted to be an officer. Applying to the Academy changed my life for the better. I am on the path to lead people.”
U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet 1st Class Daniel Jeong, a prior-enlisted cadet, shares a moment with Senior Airman Kostiantyn Khymchenko during the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year immersion event Oct. 13, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Pacheco)
A path to the Academy
Enlisted Airmen offer an experienced perspective to the Cadet Wing with knowledge about Air Force life, etiquette, doctrine and procedures. The Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development program began in 1995 as a tool for unit and wing commanders to nominate outstanding enlisted Airmen with officer potential for Academy admission consideration.
“LEAD is an opportunity for Airmen to challenge themselves, to grow academically and to practice humility,” said 2nd Lt. Lendel Brown, program manager. “It is important for Airmen to know that the [Academy] is for them, too. As a product of LEAD, I can say the experience was worth it and has prepared me for what I hope will be a long and rewarding career.”
2nd Lt. Lendel Brown, pictured here as a U.S. Air Force Academy cadet third class on Recognition Aug. 15, 2020, poses with fellow cadets Shakira Colon-Madera and Jonathan Godwin. All three cadets earned their Academy appointments through the Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development program and are now Academy graduates and U.S. Air Force officers. Brown, now a second lieutenant, is the Academy’s LEAD program manager. (Photo courtesy of 2nd Lt. Lendel Brown)
Academy Admissions staff evaluates prior-enlisted leadership potential through athletic participation and non-athletic activities such as class offices, public speaking, Civil Air Patrol and scouting. High school, college and preparatory school transcripts determine applicants’ academic potential. The staff also considers applicants’ active duty performance and supervisor recommendations.
Applicants should ensure they meet eligibility requirements for Academy or Prep School appointments, Brown said. To determine enlisted commissioning program eligibility, interested Airmen may review DAFMAN 36-2032, Chapter 10, Enlisted Commissioning Programs. If eligible, Airmen must complete AF Form 1786 and submit a Pre-Candidate Questionnaire.
The deadline for submitting AF Form 1786 is Jan. 31.
Although LEAD was established in 1995, the Prep School has been a pathway for enlisted members to gain an appointment to the Academy since 1961. Every year, the Prep School offers a potential Academy pathway to a select group of enlisted personnel and civilians. The school provides academic, leadership and physical skills to prepare them for success as future officers. More than 75 percent of graduates receive Academy appointments, according to Prep School officials.
Prior enlisted members from outside the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force may also apply for Academy admission but are not eligible for LEAD nominations. They must secure nominations through the same process as civilian applicants.
Life as a cadet
While at the Academy, cadets attend classes as full-time students, earn a monthly salary, gain valuable leadership skills, and stay healthy and active. Cadets receive free room and board, dental and medical care. They also make friends with fellow cadets, some of whom will remain so for much of their lives, Baruela said.
“Some of my best friends I made here,” Baruela said. “Some will be at my wedding. Every one of us has the same goal—to graduate and become great.”
Cadet 1st Class Kiana Baruela, a former enlisted cadet, shares a moment with Tech. Sgt. Jennel Edwards from Air Force Global Strike Command during the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2023 Tour at the U.S. Air Force Academy Oct. 13, 2023. Baruela was the cadet lead for the Academy’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year immersion, bringing the winners and allowing them to understand cadet life and the Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development pathway to commissioning. (U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Pacheco)